They say you should never read the comments. But sometimes, out of procrastination or curiosity or the narcissistic personality disorder that's endemic to newsrooms, you do.
And if you happen to write about gender, like I do, some of the comments you'll find will make you want to douse your laptop in Diet Coke and go paint artisanal pottery for a living instead.
For example, when I wrote about how, according to clinical studies, female leaders are expected to perform within a “narrow band of acceptable behavior,” the first commenter responded, “Isn't it the women who are generally less tolerant of all human behavior (be that male or female) that doesn't conform to 'average?'”
Touché, Professor Retrograde! Don’t worry, I’m sure any day now that dissertation on the superiority of the male brain will be accepted and you can get yourself a tenured job and prove Mom wrong forever.
I kid, of course (sort of). But I do often wonder, “Who are these people?” Who would take time out of their day just to post sexist rants on news articles?
Science may now have the answer, and it's not encouraging. Corinne Moss-Racusin, Aneta Molenda, and Charlotte Cramer from Skidmore College recently harvested 1,135 comments that had been posted on three sites—the New York Times, Discover magazine, and IFL Science—in response to articles that reported on a study finding that science professors subtly prefer male undergrads. The researchers determined the gender of the commenters by looking at their profile photos or names, though they discarded unisex or ambiguous names. In all, they were able to determine the gender of 51 percent of the commenters, and 57 percent of them were women.